MPs to declare £5,000 'gifts' of airport parking

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For the first time MPs are to be forced to declare publicly the gift of a car-parking pass worth more than £1,000 a year for airports in England and Wales.

About 1,000 passes – with a total value of over £1m – have been issued by BAA, the airports operator, to MPs, MEPs and peers. They have a value over the full five-year term of a parliament of £5,245. MPs were sent the plastic passes in June. An accompanying letter said that they must declare them because, under the Political Parties and Referendums Act that came into force this year, MPs have to register any donation worth more than £1,000 a year.

Some MPs were said to be surprised at the value of a pass and returned them, but most MPs have kept them. They have until the end of the month to declare them to the Electoral Commission, unless, like Barbara Follett, the Labour MP for Stevenage, they have already registered the perk.

Several MEPs, including Glenys Kinnock, have already declared that they have received a pass in the European Parliament's public register. But others, including the Green MEPs Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas, returned their pass on principle.

They fear that the independence of parliamentarians, considering issues such as the development of terminal five at Heathrow and taxing aviation fuel because of its effect on global warming, could be compromised.

Ms Lucas, Green Party member for south east England said: "If elected representatives accept corporate offers like this they risk jeopardising the independence of their decision making and therefore risk an even greater loss of public confidence."

The Electoral Commission has written to all MPs and MEPs insisting that they list the pass in its new register. The passes do not have to be disclosed in the register of members' interests because they are sent to all members of parliament and therefore do not represent an individual benefit.

BAA said that the car parking scheme was inherited from its predecessor the old state owned British Airports Authority and was continued when the company was privatised.

The pass entitles MPs, MEPs and working peers to a free stay in car parks at the main UK and Scottish airports, when on Parliamentary business. For members of the public parking at Heathrow would cost £36 a day.